Over the years I’ve tried a few times to borrow Stephen King’s On Writing from the library. To my dismay it was always booked out and had a loan-list as long as a welfare queue on payday.
I’m not sure why it took so long but last month I handed over some cold hard cash and bought a copy (you’re welcome, Stephen). Most rewarding and valuable $13 I’ve spent in recent days. It was cheaper, lasted longer and was more enjoyable than three cups of coffee, and sent me to the bathroom less.
I haven’t read much of King’s work. I’d guess at a book and a quarter; the quarter being ‘Insomnia’ which I considered aptly named. My lack of readership relates to the genre, not at all the author.
Most assuredly, King is not everyone’s favorite author. He writes content which is scary, often a little warped and is the product of a creative, perhaps disturbed, mind. In On Writing he owns it; he writes as his characters lead him and doesn’t shy away from an honest portrayal of those characters and settings, even if it ruffles the reader’s sensibilities.
I’m not trying to get you to talk dirty, only plain and direct. Remember that the basic rule of vocabulary is use the first word that comes to your mind, if it is appropriate and colorful.
King starts off On Writing by describing – in snippet form – his childhood and how he began as a writer. He then moves onto the style of writing and his thoughts on what makes good writing. (Some of his ideas do challenge the advice that I’ve otherwise heard, and I will share them in future posts). His commentary and insights on writing are many and valuable, always returning to the theme of ‘it’s all about the story’. Like most authors he encourages prolific reading and writing:
[Reading] also offers you a constantly growing knowledge of what has been done and what hasn’t, what is trite and what is fresh, what works and what just lies there dying (or dead) on the page. The more you read, the less apt you are to make a fool of yourself…
He speaks candidly about his former substance abuse; something which seems to be an epidemic among the wealthy and successful.
The point of this intervention, which was certainly as unpleasant for my wife and kids and friends as it was for me, was that I was dying in front of them. Tabby said I had my choice: I could get help at a rehab or I could get the hell out of the house. She said that she and the kids loved me, and for that very reason none of them wanted to witness my suicide.
He didn’t have to share this but I’m glad that he did. It is owning the mistakes of the past, and also giving credit where credit is due (to his wife, family and friends).
One thing that I really liked about On Writing, and did not expect, was how highly King praises his wife. Throughout the book he speaks highly of her: her support, good qualities and dependability.
[Tabby’s] support was a constant, one of the few good things I could take as a given. And whenever I see a first novel dedicated to a wife (or a husband), I smile and think, There’s someone who knows. Writing is a lonely job. Having someone who believes in you makes a lot of difference.
He writes of the van which nearly killed him, and the long and painful journey back toward normality. It is in this time when the value of his wife shines through again, helping to get him writing again.
In the end it was Tabby who cast the deciding vote, as she so often has at crucial moments in my life. I’d like to think I’ve done the same for her from time to time, because it seems to me that one of the things marriage is about is casting the tiebreaking vote when you can’t decide what you should do next.
It is clear that he values her, and their marriage. To that, I applaud most wholeheartedly.
Mr King, if you’re ever in little old Adelaide, please come for a meal. I’ve told my wife you’re on the want-to-have-to-dinner list.